Committing a terrorist act is an offence under section 101.1 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth). This offence is a serious indictable (SI) offence and must be finalised in the Supreme Court, but commences in the Local Court. The maximum penalty for committing a terrorist act is life imprisonment. This offence carries a minimum non-parole period and the court must fix a non-parole period of at least ¾ of the overall sentence imposed.
If you have been charged with committing a terrorist act, the prosecutor must prove that:
- you committed an act of terrorism
- you intended to commit a terrorist act
- you intended for your actions to advance a political, religious or ideological cause
- you intended to influence through intimidation the government, public or a portion of the public
A terrorist act
A terrorist act is broadly defined. It encompasses both acts and threats of action. You are deemed to have committed a terrorist act if your act or threat of action involves:
- endangering a person’s life
- creating a serious health or public risk
- serious physical harm or the death of a person
- serious damage to property or
- interfering with electronic systems, (e.g. telecommunication systems, transport systems, government services, etc.).
Other terrorism offences include: providing support to a terrorist organisation, membership of a terrorist organisation, advocate the doing of a terrorist act, collecting or making documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts.
What does ‘advance a political, religious or ideological cause’ mean?
For the purposes of a terrorism offence, this element will be satisfied if the police can prove that your action or threat of action was made in the name of a political, religious or ideological group. The action or threat of action must be done in an attempt to influence the government or public through intimidation to adopt the beliefs of that political, religious or ideological group.
What is a minimum non-parole period?
A non-parole period is the period of time someone spends in jail before they will be released on parole (or considered for parole).
A minimum non-parole period is a mandatory piece of legislation which specifies the non-parole period by reference to the overall sentence. This means that the sentencing Judge cannot impose a non-parole period which is less than ¾ of your overall sentence. However, the sentencing judge may impose a longer non-parole period.
What are the possible defences?
- You may deny that you committed a terrorist act.
- You may agree that you committed the physical act, but deny that it was to advance a political, religious or ideological cause.
- You may have been mentally ill, assuming it fits the legal definition for mental illness
Should I plead guilty or not guilty?
This will depend on a number of factors, including whether you accept that you committed a terrorist act.
You may accept the alleged conduct, but your lawyer may be able to persuade the prosecution to accept a plea of guilty to a less serious charge.
Alternatively, you may accept the charge but disagree with part or all of what police say happened. In these circumstances, your lawyer may be able to negotiate with the prosecution to change the ‘facts sheet’.
What sentence will I get for a terrorism offence?
It is certain that the court will record a conviction for terrorism offences. The type of sentence you receive will depend on the facts of your case, your personal circumstances, criminal history and many other factors.
It is almost certain that you will go to jail. The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment. A minimum non-parole period applies, that period is to be at least ¾ of the overall sentence imposed. The length of sentence you receive will also depend on the facts of your case, your personal circumstances, criminal history and many other factors.
If I am sentenced to life imprisonment, will I ever be eligible for parole?
Yes, if you are sentenced to life imprisonment, section 19AG(3) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) provides that the minimum non-parole period is 22 years and 6 months. However, it should be noted that this non-parole period is the minimum and the Judge may sentence you to a higher period of non-parole.
Teagan Naidu, Senior Lawyer